Noto: the Baroque capital of Sicily


In 2002, UNESCO included the baroque cities of Val di Noto in the list of the World Heritage sites. It is not just one place but a set of cities whose reconstruction in the late baroque era, created an impressive and unprecendented monumental valley, enriched with noble palaces of particular interest as well as of unique beauty.

After leaving Siracusa, I drove approximately 20 minutes towards the mainland until I reached the city of Noto. I slept at an old monastery turned into a bed and breakfast some 15 minutes out of the city, surrounded by olive trees and cactus. I relaxed a bit at the swimming pool and then, around 6.00 pm I went to Noto. It was so warm that I preferred to visit the city in the evening to avoid spending too much time uder a scortching sun.

The area is nowadays the capital of Baroque, because of a tragedy: the old city of Noto, whose monumental walls are still visible 15 minutes out of the present city, was distroyed by an earthquake on january 11th, 1693, Thus the city had to be fully reconstructed at a different location and the locals wanted it to be grander and more beutiful than ever before.

The suburbs of the city has not so much to show to a visitor, thus your main goal when you approach it is to find a parking. Some are available for pay at Villa Comunale (the public garden) but in peak season you will probably have to roam around for a while before finding a slot. I decided to meander with the car in the little alleys of the upper section of Noto, behind the Cathedral, and found some free slots there, for free.

The sun was still high when I started my walking tour, but in an hour the sunset started and illuminated the place in a way that turned the light beige color of the local stones into a golden shade and made them look even more precious.

Noto. The Cathedral’s belltower. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Cathedral square. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

You might have visited other European cities where the baroque architecture is of very high level such as Paris, Torino, Vienna, Lecce, Prague ad many more. However what makes Noto very special and what made it listed by Unesco is the unique homogeneity of the decorations, the golden color of the local stone and the impressive set of decorations and details that the architects and the local workers used to show off their endless creativity. Look at these balconies which are considered the most beautiful baroque terraces in the world:

Baroque balconies at Palazzo Nicolaci. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Baroque balconies at Palazzo Nicolaci. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Baroque balconies at Palazzo Nicolaci. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

I had dinner at a restaurant right below these balconies and got to watch them for a couple of hours.

The sunset started thus I decided to take a walk along the main street, where also the most beautiful baroque buildings are located and took a set of pictures that testify how the sunlight impacts a lot on what you see giving you get the impression of walking in a “golden city”.

Sunset on the Cathedral. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Sunset on the city hall. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Capitels of the cathedrals. Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

I walked by a window at the ground floor of a noble palace. The blinds were open thus I could see the painted ceiling of the room:

Window in Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

While paying my dinner bill I noticed a marble plate on the facade of the building showing a dedication to the year 1861, when Italy was unified, (Sicily being among the first regions who dediced to join the kingdom of Piedmont), thus I spoke with my travelmates about it and a man, who was standing next to us, overheard our conversation and invited us into his house, which was the former home of a noble family involved in the commerce of Tuna fish. He allowed me to take a picture of the living room, thus you get an idea of how a baroque era home was furbished in Noto.

Living room in Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata.

After dinner, I took a last stroll, and had another granita. It is said that every city changes at night. I believe it’s true and these few pictures testify that.

The Cathedral of Noto. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Noto by night. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

If you plan to visit Noto these information may be useful for you:

  • During summer temperatures can be very high, thus plan your visit in the early mornings or from late afternoon to the evening. There are several “by-night” city tours if you like to join one of them. Skip the hours from 12.00 am till 5.00 pm if you can.
  • If you tour Sicily with your car and you stay out of Noto, be prepared to roam around a bit before finding a parking. If you are brave enough to enter the little alleys behind the Cathedral you may find some available slots for free, but it will also take a while. There is a parking along Via Cavour, for pay.
  • Book you dinner in advance: in peak season the city might be very crowded, thus be prepared to wait in line for quite a long time if you don’t have a reservation. Remember that in Sicily, dinner starts not earlier then 08.00 pm.

Where to stay: I slept at a very nice bed and breakfast approximately 15 minutes out of the city, on the route to Noto Antica, the remains of the former city destroyed by an earthquake. Its name is Borgo Alveria and it’s basically an old monastery turned into a bed and breakfast which was renovated with a very good taste. The swimming pool is big and the breakfast is very rich.

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